Colette Bennett, a research and policy analyst with Social Justice Ireland, said the stark reality of families being forced to live in cramped conditions without proper facilities meant many children under the age of five were missing out on crucial development.
The lack of cooking and refrigeration facilities in hotels and B&Bs meant many parents had no choice but to feed their toddlers pureed baby food well past the time they should transition to eating solid food, she said.
As a result, they are failing to develop the necessary muscles in their mouths and jaws from chewing – which is leading to them requiring specialist speech therapy in order to talk normally like children of a similar age.
Cramped conditions in hotel and bed and breakfast bedrooms meant they also don’t have the proper space required to learn how to crawl and walk, she said.
She made the comments at Social Justice Ireland’s annual conference at Croke Park yesterday.
The conference was also told that 15pc of homeless children have been living in such emergency accommodation for two years or more.
According to the most recent figures on homelessness released by the Department of Housing last month, that translates to 581 out of 3,873 children who were homeless as of the end of September.
Almost half, or 45pc, of homeless children – 1,743 – have been homeless for a year or more, she said. “Homelessness is becoming normalised in our society.”
For families accessing emergency accommodation, 45pc have being doing so for over a year, with 15pc in the system for two or more years.
The very fact that Focus Ireland and the INTO jointly published a resource for primary schools to aid them in supporting homeless children earlier this year “shows just how pervasive our homelessness crisis has become”, she said.
Aside from the human cost to children whose formative years and emotional, physical and psychological development were being negatively affected by homelessness, the State was having to pay for additional supports for these children, she added.
“Time lost in the first five years of a child’s development is not easily recovered. It requires wraparound supports, including physical and speech therapies, counselling services and dieticians,” she said.
“The societal cost of homelessness is, as yet, unknown. However, it is quite certain that the social and economic impact of homelessness will be with these children and their families throughout their lives. The State spent €147m last year on accommodation alone,” she told the Irish Independent.
She said the State’s ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ initiative was not working and was benefiting only those in the private sector who were providing emergency and other accommodation at the State’s expense.